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Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Quest of the Five Clans by Raymond St. Elmo (reviewed by Lukasz Przywóski)

Official Author Website
Buy the books HERE(USA) or HERE(UK)

Author information: Raymond St. Elmo is a computer programmer living in Texas. A degree in Spanish Literature gave him a love of magic realism. A fascination with artificial intelligence gave him a job. His books tend to be first-person fantastical accounts with frequent references to William Blake, Borges and PKD.

Format: The series was self-published by the author and is available through Kindle Unlimited and in ebook and paperback formats. Cover art by Mark Summers.

Overview: Raymond St. Elmo writes peculiar books. They're very much his own, inimitable, style. Always filled with plenty of literary and philosophical references that play out as the stories unfold. He writes with wit, wisdom, and eloquence. At times, he seems more focused on the language, ideas,  and internal monologues of well-educated and well-read characters than explosive action or linear plot. As a result, his books, Quest of the Five Clans included, won't appeal to everyone. 

Quest of the Five Clans is an engaging series that will appeal to some, and bore others. I have an impression it's kind of a story that's more language, than character or plot-driven. It plays with poetry and makes philosophical excursions that don't move the plot forward.  Moments of sheer brilliance mix with moments of utter confusion. 

That said, readers looking for something different, clever and full of quotable lines should take a look at the series. Especially that the final book will be published in a few months making it bingeable.

While slightly mind-bending, the series contains enough exciting and humorous moments to engage readers and satisfy their need for action and witty dialogue. It introduces a lot of magical beings, including a were-fox and a were-bull or a clockwork kid. They all belong to different clans linked in one way or another to Rayne Gray's (hero of the series) spouse. They have little in common. Except for their weakness for kilts. What's the deal with them anyway?

I'll do my best to introduce the series for you, but the first few chapters of The Blood Tartan will tell you if it's your cup of tea better and faster than me, so why won't you try them?

The Blood Tartan (Quest of the Five Clans #1) by Raymond St. Elmo
300 pages, published on  July 13th 2017

The first book in the series introduces Rayne Gray, the hero, and turns his world upside down. Rayne is a madman. When he's not killing, he's cheerful, charitable, and philosophical about his life of violence. He soon finds himself in a lot of troubles - three steps from madness, two steps from arrest, one step from death

To make matters worse (and interesting), he engages with a vampiric creature with entire clans of strange cousins. As a result, he has to deal not only with power-hungry maniacs obsessed with expanding their industrial empire but also with vampires. You'll see him fighting for his life, fleeing hunters, edging past madmen, brooding on poetry and whiskey and vengeance. And quoting Blake.

It's a surprisingly dark book that doesn't always feel this way because the voice of the narrator is humorous. Rayne's first-person narrative remains engaging, fun and light-hearted against all odds.  His observations are hilarious:

There is no more powerful reply to doubts of self-existence than to have booted idiots tread your toes. Ouch, ergo sum.

The Blood Tartan serves as an excellent introduction to St. Elmo's books, as it has a clear and well-pronounced plotline and intrigue. It doesn't shy away from philosophical ramblings and questions or literary references but is easy to read and follow. Witty references in the book (William Blake poetry, Occam's razor) won't be accessible to everyone. Once you get them, though, they add another layer of fun/meaning to the story. 

If, after finishing The Blood Tartan, you'll want more, you're in for a treat - you can immediately jump to the sequel. 

Overall, it's a great start to the series that will show you if St. Elmo's voice resonates with you. Even if it's not your cup of tea, chances are you'll remember at least a few great lines anyway.

The Moon Tartan (Quest of the Five Clans #2) by Raymond St. Elmo
279 pages, published on  January 1st, 2018

Rayne's honeymoon in a haunted castle in Scotland ends rather abruptly. He has to deal with old enemies. To do so, he needs to return to Londonish to "kill a man, affirm social justice, place flowers upon a grave, and recover a fortune stolen". To his big surprise, there's another Rayne Gray in the city. A tricky business.

If you liked The Blood Tartan, you will be delighted in this sequel. If you finished The Blood Tartan unsure of your feelings, I would encourage you to pick up The Moon Tartan - we get more of Gray, more of the family, some development of our characters and some introductions of new ones.

The Moon Tartan is an intriguing novel. It contains a lot of good things: Vampires, minotaurs, death, mayhem, poetry, beheading with a scythe, philosophical ramblings, and stuff. Plus, the ending. Things will get interesting for Rayne.

The Harlequin Tartan (Quest of the Five Clans #3) by Raymond St. Elmo
209 pages, published on  June 29th, 2018

Rayne Gray has lived a violent life that earned him a deep enmity of numerous beings (living and dead). He slew countless individuals, both friends, and foes. He's no stranger to a bloodbath, but he's also appreciative of finer things in life: love, poetry, art. He's a kind of protagonist who'll behead a friend while quoting Shakespeare.

Rayne considers himself firmly grounded in reality; fairy tales, magic, or vampires may inspire poets, but it doesn't make them real. A sound approach to life. Albeit a bit tricky when your wife is a vampire.

The events presented in The Moon Tartan resulted in Harlequin clan members stealing Mr. and Ms. Gray's memories of each other. The question remains what will happen after his reunion with his wife - will he slay her as a monster, or will she devour him as an evening meal?

The Harlequin Tartan is more difficult than previous entries, parts of the book presenting Rayne's visions and dream landscapes were challenging to follow. In the end, though, things come together nicely in a happy disco dance on a cemetery. Vampires, undead, bankers join hands and dance, and... Nah, I'm just joking. There's no dance. But there is a final, surprisingly brutal (dismemberment, beheading and stuff) and passionate sequence taking place in the middle of the night on a cemetery where Rayne plans to kill those he had already killed.

Quality stuff.

The Clockwork Tartan (Quest of the Five Clans #4) by Raymond St. Elmo
218 pages, published on  July 29th, 2019

I stand in the doorway, my obituary in pocket. A torn scrap of tomorrow’s newsprint declaring this dull place, this sunny day, for my death. But what hour? Doesn’t say. Perhaps the press won’t think it matters. Annoying. It matters to me. Who knows the hour of their death? Not I, only the date and address. Might not come till evening.

Rayne leads an interesting life, as any self-respecting Spadassin should. He's no stranger to violence, fencing, fighting or poisoning. But nothing prepared him for being a husband and to deal with more of the clans nonsense. This time he faces the Clockmakers, his in-laws dabbling in automata and time travel. After a relatively normal beginning, things get complicated.

Rayne enters Halls of Time where different doorways lead to different pasts and futures. Some, he visits alone. Some with his unexpected companions.

It's the fourth book in the series. If you've read previous ones I won't have to convince you to try this one. If the adventure is still ahead of you, know this. The Quest of the Five Clans series blends classic adventure fantasy with magical realism elements, philosophy and profound love for the language. You'll observe characters fencing not only with sabers but also with quotes from famous poems. Moments of pure delight and deep reflection, all caught in elegant phrases. Strange visions and things that happen between dream and reality.

The Clockwork Tartan is, probably, my favorite entry in the series. I can't help but wonder what insanities await Rayne in the final tome of the series.

In conclusion, if you love weird and unique fiction that includes literary references, elements of magical realism, a cast of intriguing and mad characters and some rather nuanced humor then give Quest a try.

Personally, I can't wait to read the ultimate book in the series called The Scaled Tartan. Rayne but will deal with the final clan, a folk who can change form to dragons, raise the dead, and are fond of tea and chess.



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